Lord Peter Wimsey

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Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey is a bon vivant sleuth in a series of detective novels and short stories by Dorothy L. Sayers, in which he solves mysteries—usually but not always murders. Wimsey is an archetype for the British gentleman detective.

Born in 1890 and aging in real time, Wimsey is described as having at best average height with straw-coloured hair, a beaked nose, and a vaguely foolish face. (Reputedly his looks were patterned after those of academic Roy Ridley). He also possesses considerable intelligence and athletic ability, evidenced by his playing cricket for Oxford University while earning a First and by creating a spectacularly successful publicity campaign for Whifflet cigarettes while working for Pym's Publicity, Ltd. and still, at 40, being able to turn three cartwheels in the office corridor, stopping just short of the boss's open office door (Murder Must Advertise). Wimsey sometimes affects a slightly silly behaviour, so that people underestimate him.

Among Lord Peter's hobbies, apart from criminology, is collecting incunabula. He is an expert on matters of food (especially wine) and male fashion, as well as on classical music. He is quite good at playing Bach's works for keyboard instruments on a piano he babies even more than his books, wines, and cars. One of Lord Peter's cars is a 12-cylinder ("double-six") 1927 Daimler four-seater, which he calls "Mrs. Merdle" after a character in Little Dorrit (by Charles Dickens).

In How I Came to Invent the Character of Lord Peter Wimsey,[1] Sayers wrote:

Lord Peter's large income... I deliberately gave him... After all it cost me nothing and at the time I was particularly hard up and it gave me pleasure to spend his fortune for him. When I was dissatisfied with my single unfurnished room I took a luxurious flat for him in Piccadilly. When my cheap rug got a hole in it, I ordered him an Aubusson carpet. When I had no money to pay my bus fare I presented him with a Daimler double-six, upholstered in a style of sober magnificence, and when I felt dull I let him drive it. I can heartily recommend this inexpensive way of furnishing to all who are discontented with their incomes. It relieves the mind and does no harm to anybody.

Janet Hitchman, in the preface to "Striding Folly", remarks that "Wimsey may have been the sad ghost of wartime lover(...). Oxford, as everywhere in the country, was filled with bereaved women, but it may have been more noticeable in university towns where a whole year's intake could be wiped out in France in less than an hour." There is, however, no verifiable evidence of any such World War I lover of Sayers on whom the character of Wimsey might be based.

Another theory is that Wimsey was based, at least in part, on Eric Whelpton, who was a close friend of Sayers at Oxford.

The novels are set in Britain contemporaneously with when they were written, from the early 1920s to the late 1930s; the story "Talboys" (and Jill Paton Walsh's recent continuations Thrones, Dominations and A Presumption of Death) continue this into the early 1940s.


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